Hereditary Cancer Test FAQs

Genetic Testing for Cancer Questions & Answers

Mercy can test for common types of inherited cancer before symptoms appear, so you can understand your personal cancer risk. Get answers to frequently asked questions to see if genetic testing is right for you.  

Heredity cancers are inherited from a mother or father. They’re caused by mutations in a gene that was present in the egg or sperm cell at the time of fertilization. These germline mutations increase the chance a person will develop cancer.

Only a fraction of the most common cancers -- breast, colon and prostate -- are caused by hereditary factors. Other cancers like pancreatic, ovarian, uterine and melanoma can be hereditary, as well. Researchers estimate that up to 10% of all cancers may be caused by inherited genetic changes.

You’re considered to have a strong family history of cancer if you have an immediate family member with a history of:

  • Cancer diagnosed before age 50
  • Two or more types of cancer
  • Several close relatives diagnosed with the same type of cancer
  • Rare cancer types that are linked to genetic mutations
  • Ethnicity linked to increased risk of certain inherited cancers 

Genetic testing may help predict your risk of developing a particular cancer, enabling you to take preventive steps early to minimize your risk and improve your health with proactive care. It can also make you aware of and able to recognize potential cancer symptoms more quickly.

Genetic testing can also determine if you have genes that may have passed increased cancer risk to your children. Another benefit is that immediate family members can learn about their cancer risk from your results and may be encouraged to get tested themselves. It’s important to remember that just because your DNA contains a mutated gene, that doesn’t mean you’re[MR1]  certain to develop cancer.

Hereditary cancers generally are not significantly different from non-hereditary cancers. The main difference is found in their origins: hereditary cancers are a result of gene mutations that are present at birth; non-hereditary cancers are a result of gene mutations in non-reproductive cells. These "somatic” mutations are acquired during the process of a cancer forming some time after birth. These acquired mutations can result from exposure to hormones or environmental factors, or from errors that might occur when a cell divides. Acquired mutations are only found in the cancerous cells and aren’t passed down to children. 

If you took the eligibility questionnaire on Mercy’s web page and found you're not eligible (or not at elevated risk) for germline testing, you should continue with all age-appropriate screening procedures as directed by your Mercy doctor.

In some cases, the eligibility questionnaire will say you're not eligible for germline testing but will suggest another type of testing or screening. For instance, the eligibility questionnaire might recommend a breast MRI based on your responses and family history. If so, you should proceed with the recommended MRI or other testing recommendations.

Patients ineligible for germline testing may also wish to consider the Multi-Cancer Early Detection test. You can complete the eligibility screener for this test at

Yes. Although your germline test may not be covered by your insurance, you can choose to pay the out-of-pocket cost of $249 to get the test.

Testing for germline mutations is done by swabbing your mouth for saliva. The saliva sample is then sent to a special lab for genetic testing. Results usually take a few weeks to come back.

Your positive test result means you may have an increased risk for certain types of cancer. This doesn't mean that you have cancer, but you may have an increased risk of cancer based on a hereditary mutation. The next step in your evaluation will be a virtual appointment with a genetic counselor.

Your test result of a VUS means you have a mutation for which there's not enough data to give a clear recommendation on your risk level for certain types of cancer. In general, a VUS result is considered a negative, but we recommend making a virtual appointment with a genetic counselor. They'll review your findings, reassess your risk and recommend further steps, if needed.

Your negative test result means that you aren't at increased risk for a cancer associated with a germline mutation. This negative result won't change over time, so it would be very unusual for this test to be repeated for the germline mutations already assessed. Continue with all age-appropriate screening procedures as directed by your Mercy doctor.

A genetic counselor is someone with specialized training in dealing with the abnormal mutation identified on your test.

During your no-cost virtual appointment, your genetic counselor will help you understand your specific mutation and discuss options to reduce your risk. They will also help you establish a personal care plan, which will be stored in your Mercy account and shared with your doctor and care team.

To make sure care recommendations are understood clearly, you may find it helpful to have a close family member attend your discussion with a genetic counselor.

The out-of-pocket cost for the test is $249.

Many health insurance plans cover the costs of genetic testing when it's recommended by a doctor. It's still a good idea to call your insurance company to be sure, since specific tests covered can vary.

Yes. Regardless of insurance status, Tempus helps provide access to its tests for US-based patients in financial need. You can complete the financial assistance application online at or by calling the Tempus support team at 1-800-739-4137. You may contact [email protected] if you're concerned about out-of-pocket costs and want to discuss your options.

It depends. There is variance from state to state, but if patients complete the Tempus financial assistance application, it's highly unlikely that a Medicaid patient would have any out-of-pocket costs. 

No. Once the testing has been submitted to insurance, you must use insurance coverage. You can't decide to use self-pay at that point, even if it's the less expensive option.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA, prohibits employers and health insurers from using genetic information, including your family history and genetic test results, to discriminate against you. This doesn't include life and long-term disability insurance. If these are important to you, we recommend you get these types of insurance before your germline testing is done. 

Understand Your Risk
Hereditary Cancer Test

Germline genetic testing looks for inherited gene changes (mutations) that can increase your cancer risk. Knowing of the risk can enable you to take steps to prevent cancer or test for it more effectively. Early detection is a key to better outcomes. Hereditary cancer testing can benefit adults of all ages with an immediate family history of cancer or those with a higher-risk ethnicity.

See if you’re eligible.